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Great Lakes Article:

States get $16 million for endangered species

The federal government has given more than $16 million in grants to 25 states to promote the conservation of threatened and endangered species.

The new grants will benefit dozens of rare species, such as marbled murrelets, salmon, and bull trout in the Pacific Northwest; the aplomado falcon in the Southwest; the Karner blue butterfly in the Midwest; the Florida scrub jay in the Southeast; the Atlantic salmon in the Northeast; and the Preble's meadow jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains.

Making the announcement Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said it is her philosophy that states should be given more resources and greater flexibility to protect habitat and conserve threatened and endangered species.

"States will use these grants to strengthen and build vital and cost-effective conservation partnerships with local communities and willing private landowners, partnerships that are essential to helping species prosper and recover," she said.

These awards are the first under the Recovery Land Acquisition and the Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grant programs, new grants funded by Congress to respond to growing interest by states and landowners in managing their lands to benefit species and their habitats.

The service awarded $10.4 million in Recovery Land Acquisition grants, which provide funding to states to buy lands that support approved endangered species recovery plans. With land values increasing in many areas of the country, the state and federal governments sometimes lack the resources to acquire or protect key habitat needed to recover a species, Norton said.

Nonfederal project partners contributed an average of 25 percent of their projects' total costs.

Grant funding will be used to acquire and protect prairie, coastal, mountainous desert, cave, and riparian habitat, land that represents critical portions of species' last remaining habitats.

Some acquisitions support many endangered species as well as important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. For instance, acquisition of property in Kern County, Calif., benefits the largest known population of the Kern primrose sphinx moth by securing protection for an area that is the only place this species has been sighted in the past 20 years. In Tennessee, acquisition of a 25-acre site will protect one of only five known populations of the endangered Tennessee coneflower.

An additional $6 million in grants for Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) planning assistance will help states support the development of HCPs. By working with the service during the HCP process to identify ways to offset any harmful effects of use or development on listed species, landowners can continue to use their land while promoting listed species conservation.

"These grants recognize creative and effective partnerships among states, organizations, and landowners that are making a difference for endangered species on the ground," said Marshall Jones, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Successful implementation of the Endangered Species Act depends on these types of partnerships."

While the grants to states will buy much protection, some environmental groups point to other endangered species that are at risk from federal military activities. The Center for Biological Diversity points to the proposed expansion of the Ft. Irwin tank base on to critical habitat of the desert tortoise, Lane Mountain milkvetch, and other imperiled wildlife of California's Mojave desert. "The desert tortoise is suffering alarming declines, and this expansion will lead to the loss of more than 130 square miles of habitat deemed critical to its recovery," the advocacy group said.

The Center opposes a provision in the House Defense Authorization Bill that permits the expansion of Ft. Irwin but "preempts the protections and opportunities for public input set up by the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act."

The legislation gives the army more than 110,000 acres of lands that the Center considers to be "of great ecological importance" before the army complies with environmental laws. "We are even more troubled by the fact that whether or not this expansion complies with such environmental laws, the army is permitted to unconditionally retain these lands for the next 25 years," the Center said.

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the U.S. Army has signaled it will seek permission to resume use of Makua Valley to maintain its expertise and prepare for war because of the recent terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

David Henkin, attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, said government attorneys told federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway last week about the possibility that an emergency motion might be brought by the army. Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund represents a community group Malama Makua in a lawsuit against the army. In July, Mollway granted a preliminary injunction which prevents the army from resuming live-fire training at Makua.

Elsewhere on Oahu, a $150,000 federal grant to the state will enable the purchase of five remaining inholdings at Kaena Point. The acquisition will create one 900-acre tract of land for the conservation of 12 federally listed species, including the Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtle. The habitat within the land acquired represents one of the last intact dune and boulder slope ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands and is critical for the recovery of several species.

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